Can political speech reduce xenophobic prejudice?

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Wednesday, May 15, 2019 - 3:00pm
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Wednesday, May 15, 2019 - 3:00pm to 5:00pm

Xenophobic prejudice shapes political preferences and behavior. That is precisely why political speech is frequently used to appeal to prejudice. The effectiveness of xenophobic appeals and their link the success of the populist right are well documented. Whether political speech can be used equally effectively to stem xenophobic prejudice, however, remains unexplored. Drawing on social identity theory and work on prejudice reduction in other contexts, we test three mechanisms by which political speech can plausibly be expected to reduce xenophobic prejudice focusing on perceptions of in-group inclusiveness, tolerance norms and out-group threat. Using real political speech in three survey-experimental studies, we find that treatment manipulates in- and out-group perceptions as anticipated, but does not systematically reduce xenophobic prejudice. This finding is remarkably robust and suggests that the mobilizing effects of xenophobic appeals may not be matched by the power of political speech to reduce exclusionary attitudes or behaviour towards immigrants.